So, after four months in office, Mr. Buhari finally presents a full list of ministerial nominees. The character of the two lists submitted to the Senate has been described as shocking, by Nigerians who voted overwhelmingly for change. The first list has 21 names most of which Change Activists appear uncomfortable with, and the second list has 16 names of relatively unknowns. How did President Buhari end up with a line up so out of character with expectations and given the set of ministerial nominees, is Nigeria still on track to achieve the change it seeks?
The fact that it took over four months to finally arrive at 37 names (for a cabinet that Nigerians expected the President to announce right after his inauguration) is testament to the wrangling and rumination that must have been involved in grinding out those names. Who could have arrested the ideology of change and ideals embodied by the President and his men, sanctioned at the polls by Nigerians, to instead precipitate a level of political realism based on power? Is there an emerging Realpolitik that Nigerians should be aware of? Power, material factors and practical considerations are starting to shape Nigeria’s emerging government rather than ideological notions like “change” or the puritanical premise of “keeping all considered to have any tinge of corruption” out of government. It has often been said, “Politics is the art of the possible,” and in striving for the change we seek, can this be done without severely compromising on certain fronts?
The key players determining who gets nominated to be Minister in Nigeria besides the President and his close associates have always included the ruling political party, the governors, some powerful political jobbers, political elites and certain high net-worth individuals. It would appear that the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as President has not changed this order. Once the list of nominees makes it to the National Assembly, the only way a party would not make it through confirmation (barring any obvious misdemeanors committed by the candidate) is if the public outcry, petitions and evidence presented to the Senate are overwhelming and compelling. Change activists unhappy with the nature and character of the lists of nominees therefore have an uphill (but not impossible) battle to change one or two names but they would not really be able to make any wholesale change to the list. It therefore appears as though the ministers we are going to get are the people Buhari found it possible to put forward given the contending forces.
What does this then mean for the change we seek?
Apart from the President, his cabinet and their aides, all the work of change has to be driven through the public service. The public servants are therefore one of the most important stakeholders in this matter. This stakeholder group is currently full of anxiety and apprehension and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as pro the change that Nigerians seek and they are not neutral either. In fact, some may go as far as describing them as a hostile lump as far as change goes. Historically, the federal public servants have displayed greater loyalty to their governors and political leaders/elites and high net-worth individuals from their home State, tribe, religion and so on than to a common agenda driven by a president. Alienating and antagonizing this group will drive them to further strengthen bonds with these outside parties to thwart the cause of change.
Without Ministers with experience and political clout, are the changes Nigerians seek possible at all? To build momentum for change, Ministers are going to have to work through the public service structures, strengthen them, make them more effective and ensure bad behavior is swiftly uncovered and sanctioned while those who do right are swiftly recognized and promoted where applicable and Ministers would be forced to lead by example. The public servants have already been put on notice by President Buhari that they will not be spared if there is any corruption or mismanagement of public resources giving a level of power to the public servants as well in following the rules.
That the nominees for Minister have emerged after very protracted horse-trading between the main power brokers is not difficult to see. Having a Fashola, a Fayemi and an Amaechi make the list suggests the President still got the sort of people he wanted and that the negotiations still worked out in his favour. Ms. Kemi Adeosun can be linked back to Mr. Wale Edun and through him to Asiwaju as can some others and yet others like Audu Ogbeh can be linked back to the faction of PDP that broke away to strengthen the APC. The change ideology may not be dead; it may just be coming alive as the Realpolitik behind change adjusts itself to reveal what is possible, now. Who knows what the colour of the cabinet might be in 12-18 months? In the meantime, Nigerians have a duty not to allow the project die but they must bear down on the new champions and remain resolute in demanding the change they seek.